Saints hope changes on defense pay off in '08 Print
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Thursday, 21 August 2008 12:42
NFL Headline News

 NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Drew Brees knows he's got it good right now.
It's not simply the luxury of throwing to a Marques Colston-led receiving corps that has helped him rack up more than 8,800 yards passing during the past two seasons.
Reggie Bush has recovered from a knee injury that caused him to miss the last four games of 2007. Deuce McAllister's comeback from a second knee reconstruction in three seasons got off to a promising start in the preseason.
Now add four-time Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey, along with much improved second-year wide receiver Robert Meachem, and the New Orleans Saints have the ingredients to be an offensive juggernaut.
``Realistically, we have an opportunity right here because we have the pieces of the puzzle in place,'' Brees said. ``There are those windows of opportunity for every team and this is a window of opportunity for the New Orleans Saints.''
At least on one side of the ball.
Questions remain on defense, an area the Saints sought to address in the offseason after giving up a slew of big plays during a 2007 campaign that ended at 7-9 and short of the playoffs.
The Saints' defense ranked 26th last season in yards allowed per game (348.1), 30th against the pass (245.2) and 13th against the run (102.9).
``Guys understand that on our side of the ball, we have to hold up our end of the bargain,'' said Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, a defensive captain last season. ``Everyone knows that, it's obvious. I mean, if we had been able to do that the last two seasons, who knows how far we would have gone. Our offense is doing their part. We need to do ours.''
To that end, New Orleans has added new personnel to the defensive line, linebacker corps and defensive backfield.
The Saints traded a draft pick for veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a former Pro Bowl selection with the Jets. Then they acquired former Jaguars defensive end Bobby McCray, former Patriots cornerback Randall Gay and former Jacksonville cornerback Aaron Glenn in free agency.
New Orleans' top pick in the draft, seventh overall, was Southern California standout defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who has looked strong throughout training camp and is expected to start.
The Saints' second pick was Indiana cornerback Tracy Porter, who has spent some time practicing with the first team during training camp.
Coaches also hope to see improvement from 2007 draft picks such as cornerback Usama Young and linebacker Marvin Mitchell.
Head coach Sean Payton, now in his third season, has declined to single out players or position groups that might have been most responsible for the Saints' defensive woes last season.
``It would be hard to just point to one specific thing,'' he said. ``When we spent time in the offseason studying things that we could improve on, we gave up a large number of big plays where you might be playing the proper technique and the proper defense but on one given play, you give up a 40-yard chunk. There are a number of areas that we would like to see improvement in. Generally, good defenses are good team defenses.''
Still, the Saints want to see improvement from specific players. Cornerback Jason David was the Saints' highest-profile acquisition during free agency before the 2007 season. But while David played well in a zone coverage scheme for the 2006 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, he was beaten on numerous big plays last season in the Saints' man-to-man scheme.
While coaches say he's looked better in training camp, he was beaten on a 26-yard touchdown and three other first-down passes during the Saints' 31-27 preseason loss to Houston. The Louisiana Superdome crowd noticed, and booed.
The Saints also want to see defensive end Charles Grant come back stronger from a down season in 2007, when he received an enormous pay raise but had only 2 1/2 sacks. Grant attended a weight-loss clinic at Duke over the summer and reported to camp in better shape. Grant, however, could be distracted by legal issues. He was indicted in May on an involuntary manslaughter charge stemming from a February nightclub fight in which he was stabbed in the neck and a woman died.
There have been recent injury problems as well. Defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, who also attended a weight-loss clinic and appeared to be in better shape than recent seasons, tore his triceps in practice and is out until mid-October at least. Fifth-round draft pick DeMario Pressley, a defensive lineman, will miss this season because of foot surgery. Projected starting cornerback Mike McKenzie has been recovering from torn knee ligaments late last season, limiting him early in camp and preseason games. He expects to be ready by opening day, however.
After the preseason loss to the Texans, Payton used the words ``frustrating'' and ``painful'' to describe what it was like to watch his defense perform. Not a good sign, but the regular season doesn't start until the Saints open at home against Tampa Bay on Sept. 7, so there's still hope.
Preseason games often are less a barometer of a team's competitiveness than they are a chance for coaches to mix and match personnel in simple game plans so they can determine strengths, weaknesses and whom to keep on the 53-man regular-season roster.
``There was a concerted effort with how we finished to say that we have to pay attention to some positions over there and ... improve ourselves personnel-wise through free agency and the draft. I don't think that's a secret,'' Payton said. ``When it ends every year, the team that wins the championship is typically playing very good defense at that time of the season.''
 

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